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Meade ETX 90 Observer Telescope Review

Meade Instruments is the largest manufacturer of telescopes for amateur astronomers. With over 20 years on the market, the Meade ETX-90 was originally marketed as a cheap alternative to the beloved Questar. The ETX has now gone through at least 6 versions: RA, EC, AT, Premiere Edition, AT again, and now the Observer model.

During its tenure, production has shifted from the USA, then to Mexico, then to China. Meade has undergone numerous internal restructurings. The ETX-90 Observer shares literally nothing with the original ETX which debuted in 1996. 

So is it still a good telescope? Not really. Hence, I am doing a review of Meade ETX 90EC telescope.

Choice!

2/5

Basic Features Of ETX 90 Observer

  • Focal Length : 49.2 in. (1250 mm)
  • Focal ratio : f/13.8
  • Optical Diameter : 3.5 in. (90 mm)
  • Optical Design : Maksutov Cassegrain
  • Mount : Altazimuth
  • Highest useful magnification : 325x
  • Optical coating : UHTC
  • Corrector lens : Grade A BK7

Accessories

  • Eyepieces : 1.25” Super Plössl 26mm (48x) and 9.7mm (129x)
  • Viewfinder : Red Dot
  • Dovetail : Vixen-Style
  • Hand Controller : AudioStar™
  • Object Database : 30,000 objects
  • Tripod : Full Size Steel with EQ tilt plate

Overview

The telescope weighs around eight pounds, assembled at nineteen. With a hand carry case the Meade ETX-90 might look like a grab-and-go scope for both beginners and intermediate astronomers.

But the fork mount is far wider than previous ETXs, so it takes a hit on portability. The case for both the scope and tripod are cheaply made, and the case is huge for a 90 mm telescope.

Optical Performance

The ETX-90 has always been a 90 mm Maksutov-Cassegrain with a focal length of 1,250 mm, which is identical to the Questar and Celestron C90.

In fact, rumors abound that the Observer is produced on the same assembly line as the C90 – a fact that isn’t very hard to believe since they have the exact same specs and appear exactly the same.

The ETX-90 has always performed well optically, and the Observer is no different. Unlike earlier models, the focus knob is ergonomically pleasing, big, and it suffers from far less image shift (when the primary mirror flops around when focusing).

Like all ETX versions and the Questar, the Observer has a port on the back, which allows you to attach a DSLR camera or a correct image prism for daytime terrestrial viewing.

The ETX-90EC features UHTC coatings which allow you to get the lightest grasp out of the scope’s 90 mm aperture. However, it is still a 90 mm telescope. You are simply not going to get much out of it deep sky-wise. But it is useful for outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and target shooting as well.

It has a built-in flip mirror mechanism, which allows you to do a 90° observation of land and sky objects, viewing using a 45° erecting prism, or just taking photos using the optional T-adapter with a 35 mm camera.

But be sure to tone down your expectation for photos, as its mount and drive system are not made for them, but rather for tracking and slewing for viewing pleasure.

The ETX-90 Observer comes with 26 mm (48x magnification) and 9.7 mm (129x) Plossl eyepieces that are made of mostly plastic, and also have low quality. For a telescope that is over $400 this is rather disappointing. But you can still up the magnification to 325x by purchasing additional eyepieces or perhaps a Barlow lens.

As with any Maksutov-Cassegrain, the adjustment to outside temperature tends to take a bit longer due to thicker corrector lens.

The optical coatings are made of Ultra-High Transmission Coatings in order to maximize the light transmission, ensuring the brightest images and the highest contrast.

The included red dot finder is terrible, but that’s excusable as you only need it to align the GoTo.

Mount Performance

Unlike previous versions, the ETX-90 Observer has a Vixen dovetail, so one can in theory put the OTA on other mounts or put other OTAs on the ETX mount. Unfortunately, this is all rather pointless, because …

… the mount sucks!

The ETXs have always been made of plastic, but the Observer takes it to a whole new level. Almost everything but the tripod legs are … plastic. Even the tripod spreader is plastic. The gears inside the fork are plastic. It screams cheap … except that this telescope is anything but cheap.

You can do a cordless operation with its dual axis motor drive system and push button electronic hand controller. The catch is that you need eight AA batteries to last forty hours. So you know the drill; get an external power source for an uninterrupted viewing experience.

I haven’t had trouble with some of the sophisticated features such as the AudioStar system, which is pretty simple to use – if pointless for a 90 mm telescope – but many experienced users have reported ridiculously bad accuracy and a refusal to align.

The scope is incredibly loud and consumes power faster than any other telescope I have ever used. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the AudioStar controller also talks in a blaring and robotic voice. This is supposed to be a “feature,” which is difficult to turn off.

The built-in wedge has no fine altitude or azimuth adjustability, so consider it worthless.

Pros

  • Portable
  • Maks need little or no maintenance
  • OTA is of high quality optically
  • No collimation needed
  • Works good as an astronomical and spotting scope
  • AutoStar GoTo computer system

Cons

  • Confusing instruction manual
  • Ridiculously expensive for what you get
  • GoTo is pointless, rarely functions, consumes battery power, and is plain loud and obnoxious
  • Everything is plastic, even the eyepieces

What's The Bottom Line?

Meade has been making unusable, bad GoTo telescopes since the dawn of GoTo telescopes. Unfortunately, the last of their affordable GoTo lines has now succumbed to the shoddy, plastic construction that is beginning to define Meade as a whole as the brand slowly shifts towards “department store quality” instruments.

To conclude this review, I would highly recommend that you not buy an ETX-90 Observer under any circumstances. It is cheaply made, costs more than it ever should, and is nearly unusable.

2 thoughts on “Meade ETX 90 Observer Telescope Review”

  1. Thanks for the advise. Since 1998 I own a Meade LX200 UHTC and I love it. I always wanted an ETX90 and after 20 years from my first meade I was willing to buy the ETX for travel, but not anymore after reading your review. It seems that Meade is no longer a Hi-end manufacturer for the ETX Series, it is a shame that I did not buy my ETX back then. Now I will have to look for another option elsewhere. Can someone please give me options for a travel telescope? Thanks.

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